In Montauk, Treasures From One Historic Building To Raise Money For Another


Built in 1797, Second House stood amid endless acres of pasture in Montauk where sheep and cattle grazed freely, and their keeper lived in the building.

Today, age and elements have taken their toll on the historic structure, which was converted into a museum nearly half a century ago. To preserve what today is known as Second House Museum, a community yard sale this weekend will feature sundry items donated from another historic building—Tick Hall, Dick Cavett’s estate on the Montauk moorlands.

The Save Second House Committee has organized the event, to be held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 9, on the museum grounds. Formed by the Montauk Historical Society, the committee is dedicated to the repair and restoration of Second House, which is the oldest building in the hamlet.

Because of its disrepair—including a mold problem and racoons that have taken up residence—Second House has been closed to the public for a year, according to Honora Herlihy, who chairs the committee.

“We already put approximately $22,000 of community funds in the last few months back into the house,” she said; that money was used to replace rotting windows and she was uncertain how much more would need to be raised.

Former television talk show host Mr. Cavett and his wife, Martha, learned about the museum’s dire state and wanted to help. Mr. Cavett and his wife are history buffs and owned Tick Hall, one of seven Shingle-style homes on the bluffs designed by the architect Stanford White in 1883 for a group of wealthy New Yorkers.

When financier Arthur Benson purchased a majority of Montauk, mostly undeveloped at the time, he planned to use it as a private hunting and fishing retreat for himself and his friends. “He envisioned an exclusive resort colony for his group,” explained Robin Strong, the Montauk Library’s archivist. “So they built their houses, and called it the Montauk Association.”

The seven cottages and clubhouse were designed by the firm McKim, Mead and White and nicknamed the Seven Sisters.

One of the homes was known as the Orr Cottage, as it was built for businessman Alexander E. Orr, who sold it to Harrison Tweed in the 1920s. The Tweeds dubbed the home Tick Hall and later sold it to the Cavetts in the 1960s. The home was destroyed by a fire in 1997, and Mr. Cavett and his wife at the time, the late Carrie Nye, painstakingly rebuilt an exact replica at the site.

Pieces from the estate that have been donated for the yard sale include tables, vases, platters, glasses, even some pineapple-shaped lamps. “It really is quite an apothecary of treasures,” Ms. Herlihy said.

Second House is one of what once were three original homes in Montauk built to house shepherds who each had specific duties with regard to the cattle, horses, and sheep driven onto Montauk for pasture.

First House, which stood to the west off today’s Old Montauk Highway in 1909 burned down, as did Third House, which stood to the east and was replaced in 1806.

The first Second House, built in 1746 near today’s “Shepherd’s Neck” part of Montauk, also burned down and was rebuilt in 1797.

Over its many years Second House was also used as a school, eventually becoming a summer home for Mr. and Mrs. David Kennedy, who purchased it in 1910, according to the Montauk Historical Society.

With the death of Mrs. Kennedy in 1965, the house stood empty until the family arranged to turn it over to East Hampton Town and the New York State Historical Trust. The town reached an agreement to have the Montauk Historical Society—also today’s keepers of the Montauk Lighthouse—operate a museum in Second House, which officially opened to the public in 1969.

“The museum represents our culture and our grass roots,” said Ms. Herlihy. “We want to educate the youth of this town as well, and we look forward to having lectures and programs and wonderful fundraisers outside the property.”

Along with the community yard sale, an Animal Rescue Fund mobile adoption van will also be at the museum grounds on Saturday.

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